Anyone who tells you senior year of high school is easy is very mistaken. Take any one of my classmates in IB Chemistry III or IB 20th Century History, and you’ll likely find a paper-writing, textbook-speed-reading senior stressing over impending IB exams.
IB – the International Baccalaureate program, which CMS offers in a few elementary, middle, and high schools – has a tendency to consume the lives of the juniors and seniors who attempt to earn a coveted IB diploma. As a senior in East Mecklenburg High School’s IB program, I should know. But the fact that I still consider myself incredibly lucky for getting to be a part of IB in the midst of the most stressful year of schooling I’ve ever been through is testament to how truly amazing the IB program is.
IB has several goals that are emphasized inside and outside of the classroom. As its name implies, IB seeks to instill an international perspective in its students. At both Randolph Middle School and now at East Mecklenburg High School, I’ve learned how essential diversity is to a good education. East Mecklenburg’s student body is representative of over 30 countries; my history class is taught from an international perspective, not an American one; and one of IB’s many diploma requirements is five years of a foreign language.
Not only are diversity and appreciation for other cultures pillars of the IB program, but I’ve seen the international side of IB first-hand. When I visited Harvard the spring break of my junior year, I befriended a girl from Cairo, Egypt. Halfway through the tour, we discovered that we were both IB kids. We were both working on the Group Four project, in which students from each of the sciences (in IB, you pick a science and stick with it for three years) work together on an experiment. We both had to do our Chemistry PYOs, or Prepare-Your-Own labs, in which students design their own labs based on the teachers’ guidelines. We were both stressing over language orals and English IAs (internal assessments – IB has a fondness for acronyms). Lena Nasrallah and I have since become close Facebook friends. I sometimes find myself amazed that we both stress over the same IB projects despite her living over 6,000 miles away.
Another focus of IB is the concept of interdisciplinary learning. It makes sense that I have to write essays for my English class, but people are much more surprised when I talk about writing a math essay. Things I’ve learned in history, English, and psychology are often referenced in my Theory of Knowledge class, which explores everything from how to determine reality to whether or not humans have free will. The point of this holistic approach to learning is to show how all subjects are important and interconnected, and IB students are required to take a variety of classes, akin to a liberal arts education.
In addition to class requirements, IB students have to complete community service hours. Part of what makes IB such a cool program is that community involvement and service projects are just as important as academics when it comes to getting an IB diploma.
As my senior IB exams approach, I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on how I’ve grown in the program. In fact, IB places a huge emphasis on the importance of reflection (for example, it’s okay to have inconclusive lab data as long as you can show how you’d improve the experiment in the future). This is one of the ways IB tries to turn its students into 21st-century learners. Another way IB does this is by testing students not through dozens of multiple-choice questions, but by giving several options for an essay relating to the subject and having students reply to one. So an IB grade is comprised of “exploratory essays,” PYOs, and IAs that we work on throughout the year, community service hours, and the essays/short-answer questions from these exams. That way, a student’s score isn’t based on one multiple-choice test at the end of the year, but rather a collection of work that gets graded in some other IB country (my Latin IA was sent to Wales, for example).
There is no denying that IB is one of the most stressful, challenging, headache-inducing programs available. It’s also one of the most rewarding. The IB program at East Mecklenburg is more than a group of stressed students: it’s a community, a family. In no other program could I write a paper about human consciousness, test the effects of various antacids, recite Civil Rights poetry, and learn in a three-person math class all in the same day. I’m glad that the IB program is finally beginning to get the recognition it deserves for the unparalleled education it provides its students.
As the East Meck saying goes, “I think, therefore IB.”
Hannah Lieberman is the editor-in-chief for East Mecklenburg High School’s student newspaper, The Eagle. Hannah was recently named alternate for the North Carolina High School Journalist of the Year. The contest is sponsored by the North Carolina Press Foundation and the North Carolina Scholastic Media Association, based at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Journalism and Mass Communications.